With most business aircraft operators us trying to conserve money and cut back on expenses, we get questions about outsourcing maintenance versus having an in-house A&P. While we deal with aircraft costs everyday, there is also service to consider.
In general, the major maintenance items require a level of equipment and man-power that only a major service center can cost-effectively provide. Not only for an engine or other component overhaul, but also many major airframe inspections require extensive special tools or access to equipment that the small operator would seldom use. Only a very large operator would attempt such a repair in-house. Even most of the major airlines outsource those major inspections and component overhauls.
But, for routine maintenance, an in-house A&P can be worth far more than their salary.
If there is a service center at home station and they provide good service, it can be cost effective to simply have the service center perform the maintenance rather than employ a full-time maintenance staff. Especially if that service center operates around the clock, or close to it. If you may have a scheduled trip at any hour, any day of the week, keeping two or three shift coverage for maintenance can be costly. An example of this was a client of ours in the Southwest US. His hangar for the Lear was next to an authorized Lear service center, so he was never more than five minutes away from his maintenance facility. He had high dispatch reliability and reasonably fast response times from them. He also had been based there for 20 years and had a very good rapport with the local service center.
If your service center of choice is 400 miles away, then you have the added cost of maintenance ferry flights to and from the facility. For a turbine aircraft that costs $1,500 per hour, each round trip to the service center can add $3,000 or more to the bill. Plus, on the (rare) occasion that your aircraft is grounded at home, waiting for the A&P to show up can cause an unacceptable delay. At a minimum you need some level of immediate service available.
An in-house maintenance staff also gives you someone who knows your aircraft intimately. That individual not only goes to school for your make/model aircraft, they also learn the intricacies of your specific tail number. I know aircraft are mechanical devices, but I swear each aircraft does have its own personality. Given the level of options and outfitting, each aircraft does have subtle differences compared to other serial numbers. The notes a skilled A&P makes in the margins of the service manuals are sometimes worth more than the manuals themselves.
The response time of in-house maintenance staff is immediate. Think of the in- house A&P like having a fire department close to your home. If your house catches fire, you want the fire department there as soon as possible. If the aircraft has a flat tire, and the boss wants to leave in an hour, you want that tire changed as soon as possible. In-house maintenance gives you the dedicated response on your schedule and is dedicated to serving just you.
When it comes to major maintenance like a 12-year airframe or a major refurbishment, having a knowledgeable A&P who works for you monitor the progress with the service center can result in an on-time completion close to budget. "The squeaky wheel gets the grease." While a good service center will make every effort to get everyone's job done on time, the personal attention from you're A&P will make that much higher likely to occur.
I've heard from an operator of a large business jet that their A&P's salary was paid for at the first major inspection. That A&P worked closely with the service center and made sure the work was done on time, and that any questions that the service center team had were addressed immediately. If you are investing in a multi-million dollar aircraft, the $100,000 per year for maintenance staff (and training, etc) is cheap insurance in maintaining aircraft availability and in keeping maintenance costs under control.
The more valuable the aircraft, and the more valuable the aircraft owner’s time, the more worthwhile the in-house A&P becomes.